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Commentaries For A New American Passover Seder, Jonathan Safran Foer Presents New Haggadah (PHOTOS, EXCERPT)

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Jews have a special relationship to books, and the Haggadah -- the user’s manual for the Passover seder -- has been translated more widely, and reprinted more often, than any other Jewish book. Everywhere there have been Jews, there have been new Haggadahs.

The Torah is the foundational text for Jewish law, but the Haggadah is our book of living memory. It doesn’t merely tell a story, it demands a radical act of empathy -- I would argue the most profound demand made by any book of any kind. We are asked not to receive a story, but to be characters within it, to feel as if we, ourselves, are being liberated from Egypt.

About nine years ago, I began work on New American Haggadah. I had no idea, in the beginning, how it might look or read. What I came to realize is that a Haggadah should not be an act of self-expression, but Haggadah-expression. Any writing or art that draws attention to itself does so at the expense of the Haggadah. The most one can hope to do, when working on a new Haggadah, is to tune this greatest of all instruments so that it is more easy to sing along to.

The commentaries, and their relationship to the liturgy, are new. We offer four different perspectives: NATION (written by Jeffrey Goldberg), which asks what political questions we should be grappling with as a People; LIBRARY (written by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein), which approaches the Haggadah from a literary/psychological perspective, examining characters and motives; HOUSE OF STUDY (by Nathaniel Deutsch), which practices a more traditional rabbinic kind of questioning, referencing the stream of Jewish commentary, and finally PLAYGROUND (by Lemony Snicket) which is written for younger readers. The idea was not simply for the commentaries to be used differently by different seder-goers, but for the perspectives to reveal the fullness of the text: the more you push on it, the more it gives back. There is no earnest approach that wouldn’t yield ideas.
--Jonathan Safran Foer, Editor of the "New American Haggadah"

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